As we get further into “cozy season,” and curl up with blankets and sweaters, we encourage you to think about where you’re buying your fiber and fabric from. The New York State Grown & Certified program has 11 certified animal fiber producers – which is the newest category in the program – and you can find their products at craft fairs or festivals near you! You may even be able to get a head start on holiday shopping.
NYS Grown & Certified fiber producer, Greene County Wool, is one of more than 250 vendors to participate in the annual Sheep and Wool Festival held in October at Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, New York. This is Greene County Wool owner Cydney Cornell’s third time participating as an exhibitor, but her love for the festival – and its fleece stars - goes back nearly two decades. She served as a volunteer for two years before entering her sheep wool and attended as a customer for more than 15 years.
“There’s something really exciting about when the doors open at 9:00 am, and you walk in and see 700 fleeces,” she says with a smile. She loves connecting with customers and explaining the ins and outs of her farm, and the process to get fiber from her beloved sheep.
Located in East Durham in Greene County – where the Hudson Valley and Catskills meet – Cydney’s farm features 21 Romeldale CVM (California Variegated Mutant) Sheep, an American fine-wool rare breed, on 122 acres. Each sheep has its own name and its own bloodline. The flock started as a flock of four and has grown five times in the seven years Cydney and her husband have had the farm. Cydney treats each sheep as a member of the family.
“There’s something really nice and comforting about taking care of animals,” she says. “They look you in the eye and they trust you. There are psychological benefits, it’s gratifying, and it’s good for the land, too. As the sheep graze, they help to manage the land and eliminate invasive species, too. Then, when someone else inherits the land in 20 to 50 years, the soil will be beautiful and ready to grow.”
All the rams, ewes, and wethers are registered with the National Romeldale CVM Conservancy. They produce wool fleeces in varying shades of black, grey, and white. Typically, each sheep producers six to eleven pounds of raw fleece annually. Greene County Wool’s fleece earned a first-place blue ribbon in the Sheep and Wool Festival’s “Fine Colored Wool” category, as well as the prestigious “Best in Show Reverse” honor.
Cydney purchased the antique farmstead in 2016 as a second home. Longtime California residents, they wanted to move back to the East Coast. When they lost their California home to a wildfire, East Durham became their fulltime home. The property spoke to Cydney for its history, stories, and care that previous owners put into it. “We found a dairy from someone who used to live there and learned the home was restored twice in its 200-year-history! Once in 1932, and again just before we bought it,” she explained.
“It’s really neat to be able to revitalize these beautiful old farms. It’s like recycling living habitats, and it’s important to think about what your impact is,” said Cydney. Fiber producing is her second career. Her dedication to the land is part of what she found so appealing about participating in the NYS Grown & Certified program. “We wanted to make sure we were doing things the right way, and eventually, better than the right way,” she explained. “It’s all about the farm and how we take care of the land. It’s nice to be involved in that and know what’s going on with the earth.”
Cydney credits local farmers, the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Dutchess County Sheep and Woolgrowers Association, and others for helping her learn all it takes to maintain the farm and care for her sheep. “I learned a lot about forage, soil, nutritional needs for sheep, and how to give injections. There’s not a lot of profit, but there is a lot of love,” she says.
As we head into the holiday season, longtime customers – and prospective future customers – can stay up to date with Greene County Wool by following its upcoming events and festival appearances on its website. Cydney also says customers like to come to her farm to pick out fleece as well and she welcomes that.
“That way they can select different colors and feel it. They make yarn, resell it, and spin and knit gifts, like hats, gloves, and sweaters,” she says. “Wool is appealing because it’s high-quality – there’s less pilling – and it’s soft on the skin.”
Cydney says one sheep will typically produce enough wool to knit five sweaters each year.